May 6th, 2011
08:16 AM ET

Faith unshaken by tornado

By Aaron Brodie, CNN

Tuscaloosa, Alabama (CNN) - The sound of someone playing a piano drew us in to the Alberta Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, two days after a devastating tornado ripped a deadly gash that will scar this Southern town for years to come.

I had been looking for a high spot where I could to shoot a panoramic image of the endless landscape of destruction, but I turned back toward the church with CNN's Wayne Drash to see where the music was coming from.

Alberta Baptist seemed to have fared better than many of the buildings in the immediate area. It was an oddity in this neighborhood, because it was both standing and clearly recognizable. Whatever had been next door was neither.

The church was hardly unscathed, though. Much of the roof was missing. Stained glass windows were blown out. And the facade of the main chapel was reduced to a pile of rubble spread across the front sidewalk like a bag of building blocks.

Inside the church, we met a small group of members who had come to witness firsthand the challenge that lay ahead. A young girl stopped playing the piano as her mother began to tell us how the building had recently been renovated.

I started taking photos of mangled metal and shattered sheetrock, all covered with a thick dusting of insulation that made you itch just by looking at it. As I was about to leave, I met Joe Southern, a member of Alberta Baptist for 45 years.

Joe lives in a part of Tuscaloosa that was spared the monster's wrath. Yet he decided to make the trek across town through military checkpoints, driving down streets littered with debris into what can easily be described as a war zone, to see the fate of his religious home.

In this video interview, Joe explains that while "we've lost a building," the church is more than just bricks and mortar: The church is the people. He says the congregation will rebuild, and that the tornado and its aftermath have only served to strengthen his belief in God.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: Alabama • Baptist • Church • Houses of worship

soundoff (969 Responses)
  1. paul

    1 Cor.1:18 For the preaching of the Cross is to them that are perishing foolishness,But unto us which are saved,it is the power
    of God.
    2 Cor.4:3-4 But if our Gospel be hid, it is hid to those that are lost: In whom the god of this world (satan) has blinded the mind of them which believe not, lest the light of the Glorious Gospel of Christ,who is the image of God, should shine through to them.

    May 6, 2011 at 10:15 pm |
    • DevilsAdvocate

      Translation: believe what we tell you or burn in hell.

      How Christian.

      May 6, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
    • Why


      Re: Letters to the Corinthians

      Why do you believe Paul of Tarsus - a ranting, raving, misogynistic, misanthropic zealot and PR expert, who hijacked a budding 1st century religious cult?

      May 6, 2011 at 10:52 pm |
  2. DoodleSheep

    Bad events don't usually cure someone of their foolish beliefs in fairy tales.

    May 6, 2011 at 10:12 pm |
  3. Floyd

    @TruthSquid – get some help. You need it.

    May 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
  4. dwinnc

    Faith is the opposite of reason. And that is shown again and again and again....

    May 6, 2011 at 9:45 pm |
    • strongbelief2

      What happened in Zeitun, Egypt in 1968. What did 40,000,000 people see there above the Coptic Church? try "googling" that.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:58 pm |
    • Toast


      I could try an explanation, but Floyd says to let you have your delusions, so I will. Enjoy.

      May 6, 2011 at 10:17 pm |
  5. Matt

    It's amazing what some of the comments are on here. This man just had everything taken away from him and what do people do? Criticize and attack him for his personal beliefs. Grow up.

    May 6, 2011 at 9:40 pm |
    • DevilsAdvocate

      It has nothing to do with the man. The problem lies in the fact that religion has permeated society to the point where life and religion are one, despite the undeniable fact that there is zero evidence supporting it and yet it has been manipulated into something that is unfalsifiable (where everything contrary to its contrived beliefs is just a "test of faith").

      May 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
  6. joe

    Read Matthew 24 and the book of Dainel, a lot of your questions will be answer

    May 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      Look how hilariously and fraudulently selective you are! Matthew also says PAY YOUR TAXES !! But you won't.

      May 7, 2011 at 2:11 am |
  7. Steve Portaro

    Let me guess....this was in god plan too? Mass murdering?

    May 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
  8. Joe

    Wonderful story. Joe, you and your friends are the Church.

    May 6, 2011 at 9:00 pm |
  9. Kenneth Henderson

    I wonder why God always chooses the Bible Belt for his loving little temper tantrums?

    May 6, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • Dexter Skagway

      Hmmmm, interesting observation. Let's look at that a bit more.

      The Bible Belt: relatively poorer than the rest of the U.S., higher crime rates, lower education levels, hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, lousy food and country music. God does not seem to favor the Bible Belt.

      The Middle East, birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam: poverty, politically oppressive, heavily corrupt, high crime rates, cruel laws, poor standard of living, many wars, much fighting between sects and religions, hotbed of terrorism, really bad music and worse food. God does not seem to favor the lands where he founded some of his biggest religions.

      Western Europe, the West Coast and North East parts of America: Economic prosperity and opportunity, high rates of education, low crime rates, relatively cosmopolitan and tolerant politically and socially, low rates of repressive laws, not a breeding ground of terrorism or religious oppression, excellent food, and very little country music. God seems to show great favor on secular places.

      Looks like God has made his opinions known.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:54 pm |
  10. Steve

    I hate when people yammer the single word 'faith.' 'Faith' in what? Taco Bell? The tax code? Gas prices?

    May 6, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
    • Craig

      Glad you asked.

      Taco Bell.

      May 6, 2011 at 8:41 pm |
    • Skippy

      It's about beliefs. I believe in peanut butter.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:28 pm |
    • LinCA

      I believe I'll have another cookie

      May 7, 2011 at 8:01 am |
  11. JesusFreaker

    I realize that some people use their faith to help them get through this, but it seems like it would be easier to cope knowing that nature happens rather than trying to figure out what lesson God is trying to teach you.

    The real credit here goes to science. If not for science there would have been hundreds of more deaths. The Weather Channel was warning people about this storm the day prior.

    May 6, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • VishaNu

      Then quit looking at it as the lesson that God is trying to teach you. Look at it as an opportunity for you to look inside yourself. The problem with religion is that it teaches followers to look outward for God, but God lives within each person.

      May 9, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
  12. Sybaris

    The tornado doesn't shake his faith but then the question is, why that same god would destroy places to worship it?

    Queue up the apologists in 3.....2..........1

    May 6, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Joe

      You don't have the cerebral chops to take a real apologist on. You're just a bully hiding behind your login.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Floyd

      It is easy to be a smart a$$. That is as deep as a bully gets.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      and you;re just a brainwashed tool happy to foist the bills for your fantasy onto others. Pay your damn property taxes for that crystal cathedral country club and stop dumbing down America while spreading misery and hate. It is the 21st century for chrisssake... we know where thunder and drought come from and it ain't some hairy muffin-faced pervert in the sky

      May 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Joe

      "brianwashed tool", foisting bills, pay your damn property taxes, spreading misery, its the 21s century.
      Solid args there, truthsquid! You're a credit to you race. Uh, that is, if you are really a squid, lol.
      What a weakling. Babble on, chicken brain.

      May 6, 2011 at 11:55 pm |
  13. Giftofgod4u

    Proverbs 26

    1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    honor is not fitting for a fool.
    2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow,
    an undeserved curse does not come to rest.
    3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
    and a rod for the backs of fools!
    4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
    or you yourself will be just like him.
    5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
    or he will be wise in his own eyes.
    6 Sending a message by the hands of a fool
    is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison.
    7 Like the useless legs of one who is lame
    is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
    8 Like tying a stone in a sling
    is the giving of honor to a fool.
    9 Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand
    is a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
    10 Like an archer who wounds at random
    is one who hires a fool or any passer-by.
    11 As a dog returns to its vomit,
    so fools repeat their folly.
    12 Do you see a person wise in their own eyes?
    There is more hope for a fool than for them.

    13 A sluggard says, “There’s a lion in the road,
    a fierce lion roaming the streets!”
    14 As a door turns on its hinges,
    so a sluggard turns on his bed.
    15 A sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
    he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.
    16 A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
    than seven people who answer discreetly.

    17 Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears
    is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own.

    18 Like a maniac shooting
    flaming arrows of death
    19 is one who deceives their neighbor
    and says, “I was only joking!”

    20 Without wood a fire goes out;
    without a gossip a quarrel dies down.
    21 As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
    22 The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

    23 Like a coating of silver dross on earthenware
    are fervent[a] lips with an evil heart.
    24 Enemies disguise themselves with their lips,
    but in their hearts they harbor deceit.
    25 Though their speech is charming, do not believe them,
    for seven abominations fill their hearts.
    26 Their malice may be concealed by deception,
    but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
    27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it;
    if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.
    28 A lying tongue hates those it hurts,
    and a flattering mouth works ruin.

    One of my favorite chapters of the whole bible. Christians are always going to be told we are wrong and there is no real God. It even happen to Jesus himself. But to the people that condemn these people and other Christians out there. God and myself still love you. Thought one day you will have to answer for what you done we all will. Again you will say prove to me this day will come but I cant because it will be you and God will be there on your judgement day

    May 6, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  14. believer

    god only gives us what he knows we can handle and everything he hands to us is only meant to make us stronger!

    May 6, 2011 at 8:27 pm |
    • Keith

      Complete nonsense.

      May 6, 2011 at 10:06 pm |
    • Keith

      Wow, there's a false Keith out there. I'm the real one. You know, the gun-toting ignorant redneck pipefitter from Michigan. I don't know who this guy is.

      May 7, 2011 at 10:59 am |
    • Keith Partridge

      Wow, there is more than one Keith in this world? Is that actually possible? Or is there only one Keith and a few million false Keiths? And how does one get appointed the one and only real Keith? Is there a world governmental body legislating the use of the name Keith?

      May 7, 2011 at 12:09 pm |
    • Keith

      There's no world government yet, but it's coming. I won't be here, though. Perhaps the rest of you Keiths can participate. Just don't take the mark.

      May 7, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Artist


      god only gives us what he knows we can handle and everything he hands to us is only meant to make us stronger!
      Jesus you need help..
      Schizophrenia is a mental disorder that makes it difficult to tell the difference between real and unreal experiences, to think logically, to have normal emotional responses, and to behave normally in social situations.
      As the illness continues, psychotic symptoms develop:
      • False beliefs or thoughts that are not based in reality (delusions)
      • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations)

      May 11, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  15. Amazing

    God allowed a tornado that flattened the town. It's a proof that God loves us and our faith grows stronger...
    God allowed a man's house to be burned down with his wife and 7 children inside. The man said the event only made him a stronger believer...
    God gave us Hitler who brought death to millions and unimaginable destruction and suffering. Well, I guess it's only a proof how much God loves us. By that token, I guess we should love Hitler too, as he is merely the God's messenger and executioner of His will. Because he delivered the God's will, men are now stronger; well, at least the ones who were not gassed, shot, mutilated and tortured to death. Yeah, God really loves us... Gee, I am scared to imagine what it would be like if God hated us... God loves me? No, thanks.

    May 6, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Floyd

      Hitler was a human creation from an ideological sense. That is a terrible analogy.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:18 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      that is a perfect analogy except it forgot to add that according to the taxdodging christian congregation members like these tools and their fgat cat "say anything for new revenue sources and votes" minister, BOTH HITLER AND OSAMA BIN LADEN can be forgiven and enter heaven if they will only accept Jesse and drink the blood of the lamb. What a bizarre and unpatriotic scam these believers peddle... and get away with.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
    • Floyd

      I think he is just trying to get by and be positive in the face of disaster. Seems faith does in fact promote more goodness than your cruel, hating heart. You just proved something.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:38 pm |
    • TruthSquid

      What? That you're a brainwashed apologist with no practical ethics? Pay your gdmd property taxes like every other business and homeowner and I might be more inclined to think you were not arrogant leeches relying on sophisticated marketing to perpetrate a self-serving fraud.

      May 7, 2011 at 1:57 am |
    • LetsThink123

      He is using 'faith' that he was thought when he was young (and hasn't bothered to question and think logically about) to make sense (cognitive dissonance) of what happened. To me, thanking god for his increased faith after such devastation in his life is absurd. But he has been indoctrinated from an early age to RELY on imaginary beings for guidance, and still holds on to that till today. Faith is therefore, in my opinion, bad.

      May 11, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  16. Der

    Nothing fails like prayer

    May 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Dreamer

      I thought progressives were the ones that liked to "try new things"?

      May 6, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Thomas

      Very nice @Dreamer.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Skippy

      Progressives do tend to try new things that sound like they would work.

      Prayer is not a new thing, it's very old.

      Prayer has exactly the same rate of success that not praying does.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
    • Floyd

      Then you're not doing it right Skippy.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • LetsThink123

      Then how do prayer correctly and how can i verify that my prayer worked?

      May 11, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  17. Ann

    Wow. A beautiful story about a group of humans who are trying to hold it together after a horrible tornado and people still have the gumption to verbally attack them and bicker. Try harder – try not to be so bitter that you have to be nasty to people in the middle of a crisis. Try to be supporting of them, even if you don't agree with the glue that's holding them together. I know it's hard, but c'mon...we're better than this.

    May 6, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  18. ameriCAN

    Maybe your 'God' either missed his target, or doesn't exist? Food for thought.

    May 6, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  19. Godlite

    "He says the congregation will rebuild, and that the tornado and its aftermath have only served to strengthen his belief in God."

    Strengthen your belief huh? So if God spares the church, then you believe in God's miracles. If God wipes out the church, as he did here, you strengthen your belief in God. Do you see the problem here?

    Let's test the random event hypothesis: sometimes churches are destroyed, sometimes they are saved. It's nature's chaos. Hm, fits the data, doesn't it.. better than a loving god that blasts down your churches.

    May 6, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • LA Bear Ex-Southerner

      And sometimes they get burned to the ground by white Christians.

      May 6, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Floyd

      Why can't you just let these people who need every ounce of strength and courage to rebuild call on thier faith to help them out? I would suspect that his strengthening in his faith is what drives his resolve. In all that disaster, he is still more positive than you. This is where his faith gets stronger. Back off Bucko and let these people draw from the things that are positve in their lives. They need it, especially now. Don't be so cold and negative.

      May 6, 2011 at 9:07 pm |
    • Keith

      Hosea 4:6 "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge". Though speaking to the Jews, this principle applies to Christians, too. Today's church is vastly uneducated about what the Bible says about blessing and cursing Israel thanks to something called replacement theology. Now our nation gets to reap the rewards of this ignorance. Sad. But we're not alone, Ja-pan is reaping it, too. (Taking an official policy of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.) If Obama pushes the same on May 20, we're going to be in deep crap.

      May 7, 2011 at 10:55 am |
  20. abamagirl4life

    I something much less violent and deadly helps each of you to redirect to your gods will if you are not on the path he would wish you to be on.

    May 6, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.